Australia Pays Compensation To Save The Chilren Workers Formerly Employed On Nauru

NGO employees were accused of fabricating stories of abuse and coaching asylum seekers

By Sarah Whyte

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 31, 2017) – The Immigration Department has paid compensation and published a carefully worded statement of regret to nine Save the Children workers.

The workers were removed from the offshore processing centre of Nauru for allegedly coaching asylum seekers to self-harm and fabricate stories of abuse in October 2014.

In the statement, posted at 4pm on Friday, the department said it had reached a confidential financial settlement and that it recognised payment of money to the workers was not adequate compensation to the nine staff.

"The department did not provide SCA (Save the Children Australia) or any of the employees with detailed reasons for the removal direction, although the Government immediately called an investigation," the statement said.

"The department also regrets any hurt and embarrassment caused to the SCA employees."

Two independent reports by Phillip Moss and Adjunct Professor Christopher Doogan, both commissioned by the Government, cleared the nine workers from any wrongdoing.

Lawyers for the workers would not comment on the amount of compensation, but 7.30 understands it to be about $1 million for all nine workers.

'My clients now have closure'

The workers were initially accused of orchestrating protests, coaching and encouraging detainees to self-harm as well as improperly disclosing sensitive information.

The workers were removed from the island and referred to the Australian Federal Police by then-immigration minister Scott Morrison for allegedly breaching Section 70 of the Crimes Act, a law used to prevent whistleblowing by Commonwealth workers.

Mr Morrison has since said the issue was a matter for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

At the time, Mr Morrison said the alleged behaviour was completely unacceptable and that the workers were employed to do a job, not to be political activists.

David Shaw, the workers' lawyer, welcomed the decision to provide compensation, saying it clearly reaffirmed the workers' professionalism.

"I'm delighted my clients now have closure," he said.

"They are special people who had sought, in very trying circumstances, to help some very vulnerable people."

Mr Shaw said the removal of the workers had profound consequences on their health, employment prospects and reputations.

"Unlike many other organisations in similar circumstances, the department has now accepted the consequences of its actions and the impact it has had on my clients," he said.

The director of policy and public affairs at Save the Children, Mat Tinkler, said the compensation would hopefully bring closure to the former staff members.

"We hope that settlement reached by our former employees by the department brings an end to this long-running saga for those staff," he said.

"These were some of our most committed and hard-working employees that worked with SCA in Nauru and the notion that people employed to protect and educate children could ever put them in harms way, was, and remains absurd."

Nearly half of Section 70 referrals by Immigration Department

Since March 2015, the Immigration Department has relied on the Australian Federal Police whistleblowing act, rather than their own Border Force Act that prohibits disclosing sensitive information.

Nearly half the number of referrals under Section 70 to the AFP have come from the Immigration Department.

The ABC has obtained numbers of referrals from the AFP and the Immigration Department.

Not one referral of alleged whistleblowing or disclosing sensitive information has been made under Section 42 of the Border Force Act.

Immigration has referred eight cases to the AFP under section 70 of the Crimes Act.

The ABC has asked the Immigration Department why it has not used Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act, but is yet receive a response.

Both the Immigration Department and the AFP confirmed none of those referrals under Section 70 had resulted in prosecution.

Here's how the events unfolded:

Save The Children begin work on Nauru
August 1, 2013

An initial one-year contract begins allowing Save The Children to provide education and protection services and welfare services to minors in detention centres on Nauru. The contract was valued at $36,740,058.53.

Services expand
February 2014

Save the Children services expanded to include welfare, recreation and education services. The contract is changed from a solely child welfare focus to providing services to families, childless couples and single adult women.

New policies introduced
September, 25 2014

The Australian Government introduces legislation to Parliament to resurrect the Howard-era temporary protection visa (TPVs), and to create a new visa called a safe haven enterprise visa (SHEV). The bill also moves to classify babies born to asylum seekers in Australia as "unauthorised maritime arrivals" to ensure they will be blocked from applying for a permanent protection visa and can be resettled offshore. Then-immigration minister Scott Morrison sends a video message to transferees on Nauru and Manus Island offshore processing centres.

First allegations of abuse on Nauru
September 29, 2014

Fairfax reports allegations of sexual abuse of women and children and threats of rape by guards working in the detention centre on Nauru.

Staff accused in internal report
October 2, 2014

Ten Save the Children staff are accused of coaching asylum seekers to self-harm in an internal report by the other service provider on the island, Transfield (now Broadspectrum).The six employees who were on the island are removed.

Staff suspended
October 3, 2014

The nine employees who were still employed by Save The Children are issued a removal letter and suspended on full pay. The six employees who were on the island are deported the following day. Mr Morrison orders an independent investigation into sex abuse claims and the alleged coaching of the asylum seekers to self-harm and refers the matter to the Australian Federal Police. Save the Children advise the Nauru Minister for Justice and Border Protection, David Adeang, that the organisation rejects the allegations of inappropriate behaviour and is willing to cooperate with the review.

Staff are cleared
March 20, 2015

The independent review chaired by Philip Moss clears Save the Children staff of any fabricated abuse allegations or coaching. It also finds evidence of sexual abuse in the detention centre.

Another review ordered
May 15, 2015

The Immigration Department, headed by Peter Dutton, commissions an independent report by the Adjunct Professor Christopher M Doogan in response to the Moss report.

Nauru police raid
October 15, 2015

Save the Children offices are raided twice by Nauruan Police accompanied by Australian Border Force. Laptops and phones are seized. Staff are accused of leaking information, especially emails regarding journalists' entry to the centre from the Nauru Operations Manager.

Transfield wins Nauru contract
October 31, 2015

Transfield (now BroadSpectrum) takes over Save the Children's welfare services role on Nauru, after winning the bid for Save the Children's contract which expired on October 31. The contract outlines that they will also manage security on Nauru and Papua New Guinea and is worth $1.2 billion. A handful of Save The Children employees remain on the island to finalise affairs and complete the transition to the new service provider. They say they are completely off the island by mid-November.

Doogan report public
January 15, 2016

The second review by the Department of Immigration, the Doogan report, is made public. It says Save the Children workers should receive compensation and that their removal was not justified.

Compensation claim lodged
February 22, 2016

Lawyers for nine Save The Children workers lodge to seek compensation from the Federal Government for nearly $1 million for the loss of income, pain and humiliation the forced removal caused.

Secret compensation deal
May 6, 2016

The Immigration Department agrees to pay compensation to the NGO Save The Children, but not to the individual workers. The amount of money was kept confidential.

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